15 years of defying the odds: The Maine on building community and never asking for permission
2022 officially marks the 15-year anniversary of Phoenix pop-rock titans the Maine. Forming in 2007, when several of the band members were barely out of high school, the Maine have gone on to release eight critically acclaimed records over the last decade-plus. Those albums have not only pushed boundaries sonically but have reached massive heights in both underground and mainstream culture. For the entirety of their career, the Maine achieved success all on their own terms and defied all odds in a constantly changing music landscape.
Nearly a year after the band’s inception, the Maine released their youthful and energetic debut album, Can't Stop Won't Stop, in 2008 to immediate fanfare. With production from legendary producer Matt Squire, the group crafted a record that was a step above most of their contemporaries in the scene due to a commitment to strong songwriting, impressive influences, and memorable hooks. From there, the band were catapulted to the major-label circuit when it came time to release their sophomore album, Black & White.
While this record was just as musically inventive and successful as its predecessor, it received its fair share of trials and tribulations that often come with larger industry hands controlling the creative process, and a push for the band to rewrite their history as it was just beginning. The record was produced by Howard Benson, who at the time was leading the charge for mainstream rock record production. While the process was new and exciting for the Maine, it also was limiting in the way that they created music organically.
Unhappy with their position on a major label and the pressure to work with external songwriters, the Maine recorded their third album almost entirely in secret with hopes that they could break free and become independent one day. By late 2011, the Maine were officially granted independence and released their most musically mature material at the time with their third album, Pioneer. Miraculously, they didn't miss a beat and successfully executed an entirely independent record release that has gone on to become a fan favorite. Following the release of Pioneer, the band began laying the groundwork for an impressive career trajectory and creative ethos rooted in DIY values that are alive and well today.
For the majority of the 2010s, the Maine continued to release compelling and impactful records on a consistent basis. That includes the raw and experimental Forever Halloween, the sugar-sweet American Candy, the band’s most all-encompassing release Lovely Little Lonely (which featured the group’s most-streamed song to date “Black Butterflies And Deja Vu”) and 2019’s orchestral-tinged You Are OK.
Like anyone else, the Maine were impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with a lapse in touring and derailment of plans. However, as history has shown throughout the band’s career, they were able to weather the storm due to their independent, hardworking and adaptable nature. During this time, the band penned their most infectious and accessible release to date, XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time, which was released in the summer of 2021, this time in partnership with Photo Finish Records.
Now nearly a year since the album’s release, the band have experienced significant radio play for the first time in their career with their undeniable single “Sticky” which has introduced the band to an even broader audience than before. Additionally, the band are kicking off their first headlining tour in two years this month to celebrate not only the release of their incredible new record but to celebrate the legacy of an incredible career that has flourished over the last fifteen years.
Remarkably, the Maine have kept the same core lineup together since its inception: vocalist and lyricist John O’Callaghan, guitarists Jared Monaco and Kennedy Brock, along with their rhythm section, bassist Garrett Nickelsen and drummer Pat Kirch. Family and community are paramount to the foundation of what makes the Maine not only special but also entirely operational. It’s clear that all five members of the band are unified by a greater mission, along with longstanding artistic chemistry that is immediately apparent when seeing them perform live.
Speaking of community, the Maine have spent the last decade or so building an inclusive community for their fans to interact with the band in meaningful ways, culminating in the creation of their independent record label, management, and events company 8123. Headquartered in Maricopa County, Arizona, the band has stayed in touch with their roots and local communities, opening their own flagship merchandise store in the downtown Pheonix Area, and organizing the annual 8123 music festival, headlined by the band themselves that has featured acts such as Mayday Parade, 3OH!3, State Champs, the Summer Set and many more.
The Maine have an open-door policy for fans. They refuse to be put on a pedestal and are aware that without their supporters and community, none of this would be possible. Gratitude is rooted in the Maine's ethos, and how they conduct themselves creatively and professionally could certainly be the blueprint for other bands to follow with their own careers.
We sat down with all five members of the band to discuss their 15-year anniversary, collaborating with other artists and the community they have built, along with a reflection on their diverse and wide-ranging discography spread across eight albums.
What drives the band to push their sound with every release? Additionally, there always seems to be a distinct vibe and era associated with the album's aesthetic and rollout. Where does that come from?
JOHN O’CALLAGHAN: I think one of the big things is pulling from artists that we really love and the bands that have proven their longevity over the course of their respective careers. I feel like we have always tried to lean towards longevity and not just a brilliant flash. As soon as we completely give into the idea of being a nostalgic thing or being too retrospective, that’s when our band will stop being exciting not only for us but for the people who dig us. As long as we are still on the same page to have fun and explore new sonic worlds, that is what will set every record apart from the last. Everything we do is a snapshot of wherever our heads are collectively at that time.
We’re in this really amazing spot now because we have such a symbiotic relationship between us and the people who dig us. Everything that we decide to do, [the fans] tell us if it’s cool or not. It’s this weird balancing act of giving, taking, listening and telling. It’s an incredible place to be this far in.
In 2022, collaborations between other artists have never been more important. Historically, the Maine have not done a lot of features or collaborations with other artists, but you recently released an incredible new single “Loved You A Little” featuring Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday and Charlotte Sands. How did this experience inform and shape the band? Do you feel like the band are in a more collaborative state now?
O’CALLAGHAN: Yeah, I definitely think so. At this point, we want to have as much fun as we can and let as many people into the fold as we can. We’re now seeing how into it people are, and it’s awesome because first and foremost with this song, we are die-hard fans of Taking Back Sunday. On the other hand, we feel like we're on the edge of something new with Charlotte as well, so [this song] is like a convergence of three generations almost. It’s a cool door to be walking through and makes it less scary for the future.
PAT KIRCH: It also opens up creativity in a different way. Just hearing John write through the lens of Adam Lazzara is really cool. We had the idea in our heads to get him on the track as we were beginning to work on it. It’s almost like we can think of something that isn't just cool for the Maine to do but open this whole other realm for others.
Speaking on the community and engagement between the band and their supporters, it is remarkable that you have built such a sustainable relationship between your fans with the creation of 8123, the festival you put on, and staying local to your roots in Arizona. What was the driving force behind doubling down on the community aspect of the band, and do you hope the way you conduct yourselves as a band could be a blueprint for other artists to follow?
O’CALLAGHAN: More than anything, I hope that our band is remembered for us being good people. Songs and all of that can fly out the window, but as long as we can continue to showcase that we are good people, [that’s] the big thing. From a band standpoint, outside of the community, we hope to inspire others to start a band and just do it, write a book, or apply for a job that might seem scary. Honestly, we have no fucking clue what we are doing. We have some semblance of an idea now, but we have made up everything along the way, and it’s been an amazing opportunity.
KIRCH: To answer the question of why we built this community, I think we just got sick of having to ask permission for things or get approval. We wanted to take things into our own hands and do things that our band can actually control. What happens to a bunch of bands is that they make a record and wait around for the opportunities to come, and all of a sudden, it’s been five years and you haven't done anything. For us, it was like if we could build this from the ground up, we can do it how we want it.
O’CALLAGHAN: When we started as a band, we learned that by communicating directly with people through Myspace, we saw a tangible interaction and affirmation that people fucked with our music. It wasn’t all of these starry-eyed scenarios. We just made the records, made the songs, asked people if they liked it and kept grinding. That was the foundation of it all.
JARED MONACO: It was small, but [we] knew it was somewhat working and had confirmation at the moment, so it was more motivation to keep doing it.
With your latest album, XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time, you partnered with Photo Finish Records, your first time working with a record label in over a decade, as well as achieving significant radio play with the album’s lead single “Sticky.” Undoubtedly, the band have been exposed to an even broader audience this time around. What has this experience been like for you?
O’CALLAGHAN: With Photo Finish Records, it’s Mike Marquis who has been the booking agent for the band since the beginning, along with Matt Galle. We feel like we have dialed the aspect of feeding the flame within our camp, but this was a really good way for us to test the waters but still on our own terms. The art is all us, the pictures are all us, but we are just utilizing the resources that being DIY and independent you do not always have access to.
GARRETT KNICKELSEN: It was just us for so long that it was nice to have someone outside of our circle this time around being excited about it that it actually, in turn, made us more excited.
Now that the record has been out for nearly a year, and you are embarking on your first headlining tour in two years, what are you looking forward to the most about playing these songs live? Are there any special songs from your back catalog in store with these performances?
KIRCH: Obviously, it’s really hard with so many records, and we have over 200 songs, but can only put 18 on a setlist. We’re going to play a lot of old stuff that people will be excited to experience again, along with the new songs that people have had for a long time but now can see us play it live for the first time. Generally, there isn’t this big of a gap between the album coming out and the shows. There’s an element of breathing life into the record that has only been out for eight months.
MONACO: We have been wanting to play these new songs live so bad because we have been sitting with them so long, but we still need to find a balance.
O’CALLAGHAN: I just had an idea: What if we called it “The Number 7 Tour” and just played the seventh track off every record? [Laughs.]